Walking through the Lincoln House



By Simon Olagbaju

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Mary Todd Lincoln is known to have told her family at an early age that she knew she was not going to be president, but she had a hunch she would marry one. And indeed she did, eventually becoming the 16th first lady of the U.S.

A significant part of her upbringing occurred in the middle of Kentucky and drew her into the national political scene.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House is located on West Main Street in Lexington. It was opened in the 1820s as a stagecoach inn, but was later sold to the Todd family a few years later. The property did not remain an asset of the Todd family, and later became a grocery store, a family house, a brothel, a boarding house, and finally a warehouse for a nearby hardware store.

In June 1977, after a series of deliberations between the state government and the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation, the house was re-opened as a museum, the first in the U.S. dedicated to a first lady.

“The house is furnished with items and pieces from the Late Georgian era, to reflect the environment Mary Todd grew up in while her family resided here,” said Hannah Richards, one of the house’s tour guides during a house tour. “Most of the flooring is made up of Kentucky Ash, and the house is one of the first brick homes in the area.”

Lincoln lived in the house from the ages of 13 to 21. It is during this time period that her views on political issues, including slavery, were believed to be formed.

“Mary’s father, Robert Smith Todd, was one of the more influential people in Lexington,” Richards said. “Whenever he had important guests over at the house, Mary held her own and contributed to the political discussions, gaining her first bit of political training.”

It was also in the house where many believe Mary Todd Lincoln’s of death was formed — she lost her mother at six, her step-grandmother at 18, and then her father, husband, and three of her four sons in close succession. Lincoln viewed death as abandonment, and never learned how to cope with it.

The house is open to the public, and behind it is the Beula C. Nunn garden, named after the wife of former Kentucky governor, Louie B. Nunn. She helped preserve and restore the property.

“The house is kept open through these public tours, our gift shop, along with any donations we receive,” Richards said, highlighting the challenge that comes with preserving a piece of history.

Events are held at the house throughout year with the aim of offering some insight into Lincoln’s life. On Dec. 13, there will be special tours that focus on Lincoln’s “Favorite Things,” to commemorate her 197th birthday, and her love of fashion, and the French.